Past Reviews

Sound Advice Reviews

Singer Spotlight:
Time to Croon, Swoon, and Sway
Reviews by Rob Lester

Here are three very different singers with different approaches and sensibilities.


Yellow Sound Label

Sometimes there are exceptions to that old adage that "Youth is wasted on the young." A case in point is Mark William, a notable new New York-based young singer with a splashy and spunky debut recording. With new energy for "Everything Old Is New Again" and even older evergreens, this still-green fellow plays the "youth card" with real-deal zeal, without overplaying his hand.

Many of the pages of the Great American Songbook are tear-stained with torchy tales of love lost or that other most common theme: being decidedly, deeply in love. But look at what Mark has chosen to record and you won't find much touting true romance or relationships with no expiration date, despite the large number of items sung—26, many melded into medleys. When things border on love on Come Croon with Me, they tend to be about the heady thrill of initial attraction. Selections put more focus on show biz success ("Let Me Be Your Star," "I Want to Go to Hollywood," "Just to Get My Name in Lights") and self-acceptance/self-empowerment expressed in "I've Gotta Be Me" and "I Am What I Am." In this last-named piece, from La Cage aux Folles, there's some explored potential of more layered, complex feelings. Mark William brings a centered, calm certainty rather than a bravura defiance that is the more obvious choice. It works.

Pianist Clint Edwards is also the arranger and orchestrator for a five-piece band that keeps up a peppy pace. (For me, some of the ideas for trumpet, perhaps intended as subtext, feel distracting.) An inventive and rollicking treatment of "Put on Your Sunday Clothes" succeeds in making this Hello, Dolly! dazzler feels like it's bursting with anticipated joy with Mark William and company engineering the ride. Another highlight is the playful rendition of the theme song from the 1960s TV sitcom "Bewitched," which is in a medley that also includes a couple of lines from, among several other standards, the non-credited Rodgers & Hart "Bewitched (Bothered and Bewildered)."

Come Croon with Me may lean heavily on light fare, with some missed opportunities for drama in the richer lyrics referencing unsettled and more complex emotions, yet it's hard to begrudge the guy's glass seen as half-full or one that runneth over with optimism. A largely gravitas-free zone can be a nice place to visit, and maybe reside.

Mark marks his CD release and inaugurates a new show in Manhattan when he returns to The Green Room 42 in the hotel called Yotel tonight, November 22. Come meet a happy guy.



When the intriguingly original singer/songwriter/teacher Nora York passed away in 2016, she left many unfinished projects. The albums she had already released featured an eclectic mix of well-known songs and originals. Picking up the pieces on some "leftover" pieces, adding some more of his musicianship to them, we get more souvenirs with thanks to Jamie Lawrence, her colleague, collaborator, producer, keyboardist, drummer and friend. The resulting release, titled Swoon, is a captivating collection that demands some concentrated listening for the more complex stuff that may not be instantly accessible. But careful attending to the literate lyrics and non-commercial, shifting melodies reaps rewards for those whose musical menus favor food for thought.

Reflections on topics like climate change and societal attitudes bring forth vividly detailed, drama-drenched images and ideas. Instrumentation that includes such welcome choices of bassoon, oboe and violin does much to set and sustain moods, but the most hypnotic elements are Nora York's resonant, versatile voice and the command with which she presents her material. Projected vulnerability co-exists with strength, with intelligence and active observation ever present.

Half of Swoon's dozen tracks are York/Lawrence co-creations. One of these, "Amelia," is an especially engaging character portrait; it's from their considered musical about famed aviatrix Earhart. Another, "Rome Is Burning," with Lawrence's piano getting perhaps its most elegant showcase, has components of rue and mystery, but never settles for predictability. Similarly, "Money, Money" (by York alone) is an indictment on materialism that is—surprise!—seductively pretty. Guest vocalist Sherryl Marshall's interwoven voice complements the York sound on this standout track to appealing effect.

Nora York's singing and songwriting put her in the category of "chameleon." Despite its cerebral affect, articulate word choices, and sophisticated structures, Swoon frequently feels like in-the-moment sharings that are quite intimate. Adding to that impact is the very sultry quality of her timbre, sounding unforced and uncalculated. Like the masterful Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro, the voice can swoop and swell, ascending to feathery delicacy or linger in low tones with lushness.

Besides the numbers she wrote or co-wrote, this grouping offers two persuasive examples of Nora York's ability to bring startling originality while walking in the shoes and shadows of other stars and their songs. In the cases here, both were pop male superstars with well-known personae who died before their time (as, ironically, did she). The thoroughly reinvented Elvis Presley hit "All Shook Up" comes to a slow simmer and strut, and she likewise makes Prince's "Nothing Compares to U" her own and quite engaging.

For the adventurous listener, the legacy souvenirs in Swoon can bring increasing rewards and fascination. I dare say it could be addictive.

Note: Swoon is available for now only as a download, but those wishing a physical copy can contact Mr. Lawrence's record company:


PB Music

With Sway, his second full-length recording, California-based singer Patrick Barnitt shows both his musical influences and his ability to strike out on his own path. To his credit and a listener's pleasure, he projects a real confidence as he instantly settles into each distinctly different groove, whether he applies his touch to a rock relic from The Doors ("Touch Me"), moodily luxuriates in the lament of "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)," or knocks out a hard-driving arrangement of a time-honored Broadway entry (Bells Are Ringing's "Just in Time" feels like a boxer's workout with a punching bag).

I will add that I always am especially impressed (and grateful) when a singer surprises me by getting me kind of liking a treatment of a song that I have always been underwhelmed or bored by. Mr. Barnitt does this trick twice. Coincidentally, each is something that began its wave of popularity overseas, gaining its English lyric later. One is Sway's title song, to which he brings more variety and he eschews overdoing the Casanova approach and lounge lizard lusty drooling that others get hooked into. The other is "Quando Quando Quando" whose redundancy isn't limited to its title. In this case, it gains interest by being slowed down to a more thoughtful and involving rumination and approached as a duet "conversation" with the slinky voice of Laura Pursell. She's also a dynamic presence on an ambitious six-and-a-half minute treatment digging into the bluesy examination of "The Truth" (Les McCann), where the band also gets a lengthy opportunity to take the spotlight.

The brass-dominated ensemble is heard to even better advantage accompanying a muscular treatment of a hit from the band Chicago that follows their original blueprint ("Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?"). Other selections on Sway also feel like respectful homages to memorable records. In fact, the take on Saul Chaplin and Sammy Cahn's "Please Be Kind" owes so much to Neal Hefti's punchy arrangement for Frank Sinatra that the late musician is actually credited. While Barnitt adopts a lot of the phrasing, his basic sound and projected attitude are far enough afield from Frank, with fresh energy, that this is more of a valentine than cloying clone.

The sense of fun apparent in the swingers is also evidenced in the wry original by the singer and producer/arranger/pianist Paul McDonald; the abbreviated subject matter "ACL Blues" refers to knee ligament damage, not what my Broadway-soaked mind thought was a possibility: some complaint about A Chorus Line. The most thoroughly satisfying number is the classic "I've Got You Under My Skin," sung at a pleasingly pensive pace so that these super-familiar Cole Porter words sound like they are serious and being thought in real time (the accompanying troubling feelings as well).

Whether Patrick Barnitt goes ballad or goes ballistic with his rockers, swings or Sways, he's worth the time spent.

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